Monthly Archives: November 2014

Matthew Chapter 5:1-10

Here we begin the Sermon on the Mount. Most of the next two or three chapters are Jesus speaking. This is where, I think, the idea of Q came from. Where was all this speech in Mark? As noted at the end of the last commentary, Mark introduced Jesus’ public ministry with a healing that was also a slap at the existing religious authorities. As such, it was something of a revolutionary moment. This is a much gentler Jesus, less overtly provocative. I think for this reason the Q believers, and a lot of Christians in general would like to see this as representing the “real” Jesus, that this speech represented the core of the teaching of the historical Jesus. That it did not make it into Mark was a problem. Matthew post-dates Mark; if Mark does not have this, then doesn’t this imply that, possibly, much of the content of this speech does not trace back to Jesus?

This quandary is neatly and effectively solved by Q. With Q, this can be the authentic tradition that was passed down in a source that did not survive, except in excerpt into Matthew and Luke. Certainly, many Classical Greek authors or thinkers are only known this way. But this is not the place to discuss the Q question; that will come. For now, suffice it to point out that Q satisfies an ardent desire of many Christian thinkers: it lets the thoughts expressed in the next few chapters of Matthew represent the real Jesus, and it provides a vehicle for the transmission of these thoughts by way of a written source, thereby providing a measure of confidence that Jesus actually spoke these words. As such, the idea of Q seems a little too tidy for my historian’s training. It seems a bit too much like, if Q didn’t exist, it became necessary to discover it between the lines of the texts that we do have.

1 Ἰδὼν δὲ τοὺς ὄχλους ἀνέβη εἰς τὸ ὄρος: καὶ καθίσαντος αὐτοῦ προσῆλθαν αὐτῷ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ:

Seeing the crowds, he went up the mountain. And he being seated, his disciples approached him.  

To a certain degree, this corresponds to the beginning of Mark 3. There, pressed by the crowd, Jesus put out into a boat and preached from there. Here the logistical problem is solved by Jesus ascending (at least partway) a mountain, using that as his raised podium. [ Note: Kloppenborg agrees that this is where one might reasonably expect the Sermon on the Mount should be located had Mark included it. Always nice to have one’s inferences & judgements corroborated. ]

In many ways, some of the questions raised here should have been discussed during the reading of Mark. But we had no point of comparison like we do now, so the “compare and contrast” technique suggests itself. The base question is “why didn’t Mark report what Jesus taught?” And that is a truly penetrating question that gets to the heart of the intent of the different evangelists. It’s also not a question I’ve encountered in the scholarly literature; I’m sure it’s addressed. Somewhere. I’m sure that the fault is entirely mine for not having widely enough. But it’s strange to note that this question does not come up in the discussions about Q. And that, indeed, may be legitimate; the case for Q may not be the appropriate venue for discussing why Mark did not report the teaching.

Matthew’s reason for reporting it, OTOH, is entirely pellucid, as my fourth year Latin prof used to say. As noted in my intro above, Matthew wanted to present this as the core of Jesus’ teaching, so it’s really the first significant act of Jesus’ public ministry that he reports. That Matthew uses this, rather than the healing of the man’s withered hand in the synagogue on a Sabbath puts forward a very different Jesus than Mark did. Perhaps this Jesus is just as revolutionary; indeed, he may be more revolutionary.  

1 Videns autem turbas, ascendit in montem; et cum sedisset, ac cesserunt ad eum discipuli eius;

2 καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς λέγων,

And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying,

Yes, it is necessary to open one’s mouth to teach and speak. At least we can be sure that Jesus did not impart his message telepathically. 

2 et aperiens os suum docebat eos dicens:

3 Μακάριοιοἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, that of them is the kingdom of the heavens.

Looking at the Greek here, I’m wondering about the “in” spirit. It’s a dative, but there’s no preposition to provide any clues as to how this should be rendered: by, with, in…And the Latin is no help because there is no preposition there, either. There’s nothing wrong with “in”; it makes a lot of sense in English. The point though, is that it’s a consensus translation rather than something that’s absolutely in the Greek. I suppose we can assume the sense was passed along from the beginning by people who spoke the language, but, again, just want to point this out. It’s important to realize when a translation is secure, and when it’s a little bit loose.

Second, I should have pointed this out earlier: Matthew prefers to call it the kingdom “of the heavens” (plural). Now, this doesn’t have to mean anything different than the singular; I tracked this for a while before giving up on it as a false distinction. For example, in English, we have the expression “and the heavens opened”, meaning that it started to rain like fury. It’s hard to explain why Matthew choses to use this term, rather than “kingdom of God”, or “kingdom of heaven”.  Now, in English, “heaven” would mean the abode of the divine used in however trivial a manner; hence, “heavenly hash” ice cream. OTOH, “the heavens” is generally a synonym for “the sky”. But this is 21st Century English usage, it’s not First Century Greek usage. So chances are there’s no significance that we can determine from the remove of two millennia. 

Now, considering that this is the opening of the speech, we are probably justified in taking this as a thesis sentence. This is what Matthew believes Jesus said to introduce the concept of the kingdom. But how likely is it that this is how Jesus began? Quite unlikely, in my opinion. Here’s the situation: it’s perhaps fifty years after the fact. There may–or may not–have been a written source that recorded the words. But, even assuming there was, did one of the disciples act as stenographer, taking notes as Jesus spoke? Something like, “poor in spirit>>kgdm hvn”? Probably not. So, if there was no one on the spot taking notes, how much time elapsed between Jesus speaking the words and the words being written down for the very first time? A month? A year? More like five? My bet would be that none of this was written during Jesus’ lifetime. Rather, it only began to be written down after Jesus died, because only then did it become essential to remember what Jesus said and did. More, if Jesus died very suddenly as I expect he did, then this unexpected departure may have caused a burst of writing down what the master had said.

And here’s the other thing. Jesus taught, repeatedly, over a period of time. Did he have the equivalent of a politician’s stump* speech? A speech, a set of teachings that he repeated over and over? Perhaps. Does the text here represent that speech? Now recall the context: Matthew says that Jesus traveled all over, to Syria, the Decapolis, etc. Did he do that before this moment? Or was that a summary of Jesus’ entire career? If the former, did he use those travels to work out the essentials of his message? If so, does that mean that his message changed over time? Or that the repetition allowed him to get the meaning across in an economical, efficient manner. IOW, a set-piece stump speech.

Is that scenario possible? Possibly. Is it likely? That’s really hard to say; more, I think it would have to depend on, to some degree, the length of his ministry. The more time he spent preaching, the more consistent his message would be.  He would start off saying different things in different ways, but eventually he’d hit on a phrase that worked particularly well, and that would become the standard. As he began his ministry, he probably tossed things off under the inspiration of the moment. Bur further reflection he would probably consider some of these inspirations truly a good thing, while others would fall by the wayside because they were unable to stand up to further reflection. Is this the metaphor for the sower and the seed? So, with time, the message would become more refined, more consistent in both content and language. So that’s the genesis of the set-piece stump speech.

More on that later. For now, our concern is to figure out what Matthew sees as the message, what message he wants to convey. The maxim presented here is familiar to even the most casual Christians, I believe. Anyone who’s been to church over a period of time has probably heard this sentiment. As such, we all know what the implication is. Now, think about it, the poor, but only in spirit. Recall Mark’s axiom about the rich man and the camel and the eye of the needle. What we have here is very different. Perhaps Mark’s message was a bit more of “expropriate the expropriators”, but this only requires that one be poor in spirit. That is, wealth, per se, was not an obstacle, so long as one maintained the outlook of the poor. Among the upper class, but not of it. Mark’s statement has implications for social revolution: the rich are to be excluded from the kingdom. This is not necessarily true here.

As such, I believe that this represents a belief, or a teaching, that has evolved over time. What this entails is that it’s not very likely that Jesus actually said these words, words which, in a very real sense, provide a deep insight into the meaning of being a Christian.

I have just learned from Kloppenborg’s Q: The Earliest Gospel that Luke says “blessed are the poor”. Of course, since this whole speech is not in Mark, the immediate inference is that this speech comes from Q. And, the fact that Like has simply “the poor”, and “the hungry” is taken to mean that Luke records the more “primitive” version, that his version is more faithful to Q, and so is more likely to be what Jesus actually said. And I have to admit that this is the first “argument” for Q that really made me sit back and wonder if there might not be something to the whole Q premise. Mind you, I’m not convinced, but it’s a point that I have to consider. Again, I will explain the reasons I don’t buy into Q in a separate post, or series of posts.

Regardless, this statement is a very sophisticated, subtle, and nuanced thought. Now, Kloppenborg says that “poor in spirit” is just a synonym for “humble”, in the sense of “humility”, but that doesn’t change the beauty of the thought expressed. What I get from this is that Matthew was capable of some penetrating and poetic thinking. That is, he was able to re-interpret “the poor” as those “poor in spirit”. This implies no small measure of creative thinking and imagination. In short, it shows that Matthew is very capable of making stuff up. And this, I think, puts rather a different spin on the composition of the second gospel.

In the literature, one finds reference to special material that is unique to Matthew, and to the source M that lies behind the special material unique to Matthew. In addition, Kloppenborg even tries to tease out which of this material was actually part of Q that Luke omitted for reasons unknown. This desire to attribute Matthew’s new material to a source Q or a separate source M overlooks the possibility that Matthew may have been a religious thinker of the first order. There is no reason why Matthew did not write the stuff attributed to M. (There is also an hypothetical source L for the material unique to Luke.) There is no reason he did not create this material himself. There is one very big reason to insist that it was not created by Matthew. By attributing it to Q or M, the ultimate source can ultimately–if only tenuously and hypothetically–be traced back to Jesus. If we admit that Matthew may have created it, then we have lost that link to the living Jesus. As a theological position, this makes a lot of sense; as an historical position, it has very little to recommend it.

The Q/M/L material may have originated with Jesus. It may have been transmitted more or less faithfully. But those are contingent probabilities; the second rests on the first, and if you know how probability works, you will realize that each contingent probability decreases the chance of occurrence. A one-in-three chance based on a one-in-two chance becomes a one-in-six chance. So this double contingency reduces the chances of the statement accurately describing what actually happened. And there is no evidence to support either of these conditions. As such, it is just as likely that the material originated later, after Jesus’ death, or that it originated with Matthew. Or, more technically, to the author of the gospel attributed to Matthew. In fact, a case could be made that the last is the most likely scenario, since there is actual evidence to support it. This cannot be said of the other two possibilities. Of course,  this has serious ramifications of a theological/religious nature, but that does not affect their likelihood in historical terms.

I keep getting sucked into discussing the likelihood of the existence of Q. Part–more probably most–of the reason for this is that it’s what I really want to discuss. But, let’s stay on task, which is “poor in spirit”.  I mentioned that this may be a synonym for “humility” and then went off on a tangent. Yes, it can mean that, but it doesn’t have to. Rather, the sentiment can just as easily express an attitude towards money. It can express the admonition not to value wealth over other matters, not to feel the need to lord it over one’s neighbors because one has money. In which case the bottom line is that it’s an acknowledgement that wealth is not a problem per se; one can have wealth and yet be “poor in spirit”. That’s very different from what Mark said about the rich, and very different from what Luke will say in the tale of Dives and Lazarus.

So this tells me that Matthew is making excuses for the wealthy members of his community.  Why? That’s hard to say without further information, but I believe my inference is valid. As such, and if so, this indicates that perhaps Matthew’s community was rather more well-off than some of the other ones.

Regardless, given Mark’s attitude, and Luke’s to come, this different slant of Matthew perhaps does indicate that he is the deviation from the tradition of the attitude towards rich and poor. As such, we can infer that the teaching of Jesus had something to say about these differences in wealth. And we can probably say that Luke presents a more faithful account of that tradition when he says, ‘blessed are the poor’. But that is not to say that it in any way provides proof for the existence of Q. Recall, the whole point of Q is that it was a written document. No such document is necessary for the transmission of an attitude towards wealth. Oral tradition can account for that. However, I do believe that the variance between Matthew and Luke may make a pretty strong case that Jesus, indeed, had a less-than-favourable attitude to wealth; or, at least, to the way wealth was used.

(* For non-Americans, the term refers back to the mythological 19th Century practice that politicians supposedly had of standing on a tree stump to deliver a speech during the campaign for election. The speech would have been delivered repeatedly during the course of the campaign, as the candidate traveled to different places, so it came to mean something routine, well-worn, and often-repeated that summarized the candidate’s opinions, credentials, whatever. 

3 “Beati pauperes spiritu, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum.

4 μακάριοι οἱ πενθοῦντες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ παρακληθήσονται.

Blessed are the weeping, that they will be consoled.

Like the previous verse, this indicates a concern for the downtrodden.

4 Beati, qui lugent, quoniam ipsi consolabuntur.

5 μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.

Blessed are the meek, they that (lit = that they) will inherit the earth.

There isn’t even much to quibble about in the Greek. OTOH, one really has to stop for a moment to let the thought sink in: “inherit the earth/world”. That is a pretty radical statement for the late First Century CE. The idea of the meek inheriting anything would have been considered ridiculous in many circles. The Roman ideal was of a manly man, “vir“, as in the root of “virile”. Nor did the Greeks consider self-deprecation to be particularly virtuous. 

It’s interesting to a certain degree that the meek only get the earth, while the poor in spirit get the kingdom. Is there a difference? That’s a really interesting question. To us, there certainly is, but then if you read Revelation, maybe there isn’t. But “kingdom of the heavens” from verse 3 seems reminiscent of 1 Thessalonians 4, when the anointed one comes down from heaven–meaning the sky. The problem here is very similar to that of the sacred breath. Does ‘heaven’ ever become Heaven? I suspect not, at least until Revelation. Even, “our father who is in the sky” is perfectly plausible. And this is not too big a step from Zeus Sky-Father. It’s just that we have endowed the word with special meaning, like we have done with baptism or Holy Spirit, whether Matthew meant it or not. Now, it’s worth noting that “the heavens” gets translated as “heaven” in my four crib translations. But it is a lower-case ‘heaven’. It could just as easily be “the sky”.

5 Beati mites, quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram.

6 μακάριοι οἱ πεινῶντες καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, ὅτι αὐτοὶ χορτασθήσονται.

Blessed are those hungering and thirsting for justice, they that will be fed.

Again, Luke has this as those being hungry. The idea, there, of course, is a much more straightforward than it is here. Now, the thing is, did Luke copy from Q more faithfully? Or was the idea of the virtue of the poor more of an issue for him? Matthew uses the word five times; Luke uses it twice as much. Given that, I think that Luke may have been more interested in the fate of those who were actually poor, and actually hungry than the poor in spirit and those hungering for justice. Maybe this is my proletarian radar picking up a false signal, but I get the sense that Matthew is trying to let the wealthier members of his community off the hook. Yes, the sentiment he expresses is more poetic than Luke’s, but it’s also thereby less direct. I’m not so sure that the difference reflects a “more primitive” version of Q as much as a real difference in attitude between the two evangelists.

6 Beati, qui esuriunt et sitiunt iustitiam, quoniam ipsi saturabuntur.

7 μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται.

Blessed are the merciful, they that will be compassioned.

Sorry about “will be compassioned”, but it’s a verb in Greek, and a passive at that. It’s a very technical translation. Not sure I have anything more useful to say.

7 Beati misericordes, quia ipsi misericordiam consequentur.

8 μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ, ὅτι αὐτοὶ τὸν θεὸν ὄψονται.

Blessed are the pure in heart, they that will see God.

I realize that there are a lot of novel formulations here, that say a lot about the novel mental state expressed. However, rather than say the same thing several times, I am deferring to a single treatment at the end of the section.

The idea of “seeing God” represents a major step forward in the proto-Christian doctrine. I’ve commented several times about the vagueness of the benefits to be conferred for following Jesus. Here we have a very concrete one. It is a benefit and the implication is one of an afterlife, I think. This is one of the first times we’ve really had something so definite. OTOH, is this so very different, from the implication of the anointed coming down from the sky in 1 Thessalonians 4? After all, the clear implication there is that the faithful will see the anointed. Now, is the anointed to be conflated with God, or are the two separate there? Are the two separate here? Here, I think they are. I think “God” means something different from the Christ. 

8 Beati mundo corde, quoniam ipsi Deum videbunt.

9 μακάριοι οἱ εἰρηνοποιοί, ὅτι αὐτοὶ υἱοὶ θεοῦ κληθήσονται.

Blessed are the peacemakers, they that will be called children (lit = “sons”) of God.

Comment deferred

9 Beati pacifici, quoniam filii Dei vocabuntur.

10 μακάριοι οἱ δεδιωγμένοι ἕνεκεν δικαιοσύνης, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Blessed are those persecuted on account of righteousness, that of them (will be) the kingdom of heaven.

Comment deferred

10 Beati, qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam, quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum.

This, strictly speaking, is the end of the Beatitudes. The blessings will continue in the next section, but the presentation changes so this is probably a good time to break. However, there are a number of things to be noted here. Reading them one-by-one they all sounded very straightforward, but noting them in sequence some things pop out at me.

First, I have to point out that these seven verses, in many ways, are the epitome of Christian behaviour. At least, this is what I think of when I want to describe Christian behaviour. I aspire to behaving in this manner. I don’t want to be smug or judgemental; I want to be meek, poor in spirit, pure in heart. As noted, they all carry some notion of concern, and ultimate victory, for the downtrodden. I believe we are to take this much in the sense that we do take it: the kingdom is the reward/validation that there, the social

IOW, this section is programmatic. It describes the behaviour to be followed. It is very, very different in many ways from the moral code of much of the Graeco-Roman world, even if it’s not entirely a radical break from the Jewish ideals of social justice that we find in places like the Book of Ezra, or the Qumran scrolls, for example. Nor is it all that radically different from much of the moral code that we will encounter in much of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; however, this latter book did not appear until nearly a hundred years later, so the question of who influenced whom may be legitimate.

But now let’s think back to some of the questions I’ve asked. Paul talks about being pure for the day of the lord, and Mark has a few strictures for proper behaviour. However, in both cases I repeatedly asked what, specifically, Paul meant by “being pure”, or exactly what sort of behaviour Mark had in mind. And then the question of “what happens then?” has arisen more than once.

Here, for the first time, those questions are answered, I believe, in a very direct, concrete, and specific manner. This is how we are to behave. Our reward will the kingdom of heaven, or to see God, or to be called children of God. We will have compassion and mercy shown to us, we will be satisfied and consoled. There it is: quid pro quo. For the first time, the essence of what it means to be Christian, and what we get in return is spelled out for us.

The first time.

I repeat, “the first time”.

What I’m suggesting is that these seven verses were 40 or 50 years in the making. They represent the point when followers of Jesus became Christians. As such, they represent a culmination, a climax. They are not a genesis.

What am saying is that Jesus never said these words. I think that Matthew helped create them. He, or his community arrived at these sets of verses to help them explain, to themselves as well as to others, what it was that they believed. They believed in a moral code described in these seven verses, and they believed that they would see God as a result. They would be children of God, just as Paul said we are. They would, in fact, be sons of God, and I want to stress the gender of the noun because Jesus was also the son of God. We would have something very significant in common with Jesus.

This is a very radical idea. I do not know if this has ever been suggested in quite this manner. However, given the way that the message has evolved over time, from Paul through Mark to this moment in Matthew, I believe that this conclusion is justified.

It is important to understand that the words in these seven verses are what came to separate Jesus from the other wonder workers of the time. Paul said that the gift of performing wonders was given to some members of the community of Corinth, and he didn’t sound all that impressed by the idea. For Paul, Jesus was the Christ, and for Paul this belief was enough. He did prescribe the conventional Jewish moral code derived from the Ten Commandments. Of course, Jesus was the Christ for Matthew as well, but the conception of what this means has grown; it has developed. Matthew takes the ideas introduced by Paul–whether or not he got them from Paul–and expanded on them while simultaneously shaping them into something that can be part of the everyday world.

Of course, my conjecture here completely blows the idea of Q out of the water. It heretically claims that Jesus did not say these words. These are not the words of Jesus, but of Christians. The ideas expressed here developed, they grew, they expanded. There is nothing like this in Paul (well, maybe the description of love in 1 Corinthians), and certainly nothing like this in Mark. How is that possible? What we have here is the essence of Christianity. If Jesus spoke them, how is it possible that Mark didn’t bother to record them? How did Mark, or Paul, not know of them? The proponents of Q have never given a satisfactory answer to that question. In fact, it seems rarely to be addressed.

And yet, the idea that these seven verses are the essence of Jesus’ teaching is the foundation stone of Q belief: that these words capture what Jesus said. And yet Mark didn’t know about them? Or think them important enough to set down? That’s simply mind-boggling. Kloppenborg says that an hypothesis has to have explanatory power, and he says that the weakness of the Q deniers is that they cannot explain, in a consistent and coherent hypothesis, why Luke deviates from Matthew the way he does. And yet, he makes no attempt to explain how these incredibly crucial words completely passed by Mark. He whiffed on them completely.

Sorry, that’s really hard to believe if this was the core of Jesus’ teaching.

Summary Matthew Chapter 4

The two main themes of this chapter were the temptation of Jesus and the calling of the first disciples. There is no obvious link between the two; the first really belongs with the previous chapter; or does it serve as a bridge between the baptism and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? Think about it: Jesus gets baptised, goes off into the desert to fast and pray, resists temptation, and so now is ready to start preaching. There is a progression there. Do the temptations reveal anything about Jesus? I believe the purpose is to demonstrate that he was not interested in power, whether over nature, or political power. Perhaps the question here is why this is in Matthew and not Mark?

Ehrman and Mack and Kloppenborg would all say that it’s because this story was in Q, and so Mark wasn’t aware of it. Great! Problem solved! Now we can knock off for the day and all go out for ice cream. See, this is the trap of looking the gospels as texts; as containing some units but not others, as if there were a specific number of building blocks available for the evangelists to use. Perhaps there was another load of blocks added for Matthew and Luke, blocks not available to Mark. But the sense is that these extra blocks, Q, existed when Mark was writing. In fact, Mack insists that the Q material is the oldest of all the stuff in the NT. He claims it predates even Paul.

But instead of looking at the contents of the gospels–including Q for the sake of argument–as blocks of text as the majority of biblical scholars do, what happens if we look at the ideas contained in the blocks? To be fair, Ehrman does this in How Jesus Became God. Well, he sort of does. By background and training, he’s still a biblicist (?. If there is such a thing). By this I mean that he still doesn’t quite take the step back to see the forest; he’s too busy assembling and/or re-arranging the trees.

The temptations show us that Jesus resisted power. Now ask yourself: was the wonder-worker in the first half of Mark strike you as someone who was interested in power? Especially temporal, political power? Isn’t this something that would be of more interest to the anointed one? In Jewish thought, the Messiah was, above all, a political figure. But, thematically, the idea that Jesus was the Christ really only shows up starting in Chapter 8 of Mark. Eight of the eleven uses of the word “christos” show up between Chapter 8 and Chapter 16. It’s used only three times in Chapters 1-7, and the first is in 1:1, in which we are told that this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Christ. To my mind, that barely counts.

So what’s my point? That the idea of the Christ was a later addition to the Jesus myth. As such, there is no reason, thematically, to have the wonder-worker make a showy point about refusing power. If Jesus was a Cynic sage, as Mack believes, the last thing he would have been interested in would be political power. As such, the offer would not be tempting. Yes, the story could be designed to show that, but then the temptation story loses much of it’s impact. If someone offered me a bag of wet leaves, I would have no trouble turning it down. Why? Because I really don’t want a bag of wet leaves. The offer doesn’t tempt me in the least. I derive no credit from declining. Now, if someone offered me a $million, that would be tempting. I could certainly use a $million, and a certain amount of benefit would accrue to me by virtue of the money. I would garner some credit for declining that offer.

So if Jesus were a Cynic sage–a true one–the offer of the kingdoms of the world would have no allure. There is the story of Alexander the Great and Diogenes, who was the first Cynic sage (he’s the guy with the lantern looking for the honest man; he’s also the guy depicted on the inside of Led Zeppelin 4; but i think I’ve said that…) Alexander came across Diogenes while the latter was in his bath, and was so impressed that he told Diogenes to ask for anything and Alexander would grant it. The sage’s response was “Stand out of my sun”, because Alexander was blocking the sun where he stood. One could argue that the temptation of Jesus was meant to one-up Diogenes.

Perhaps. But this story of Jesus lacks the wit of the story of Diogenese. That witty retort to power was the point of the story. The story of Jesus is, to my mind, too earnest. The wit is not there. Then there’s the point that it’s the enemy, the slanderer, rather than an earthly king making the offer. That changes the complexion of the story completely. We’re now talking about Infinite Power, not a favour granted by a temporal ruler. It’s such a difference of degree that it becomes, I think, a difference in kind.

What I’m trying to say is that this is temptation at a supernatural, if not cosmic level. As such, this is not the sort of thing a Cynic sage would be mixed up with. Rather, this is a temptation for a divine being, a son of God, however the term is to be understood. As such, I would suspect that it’s the sort of story that would have begun to be told after the Christ cult had become the dominant theme for the followers of Jesus. Mack makes a big deal out of the here-and-now sort of things in Q, the behavioural codes, the attitudes, the Beattitudes. A supernatural temptation on a cosmic scale does not fit into such a milieu. Rather, this story, I think, developed some time later. It most likely developed later than Mark, which is why the story of the temptations is not in Mark. At the least, the story is certainly later than the early part of the Jesus movement.

As such, it was, most likely, not part of Q.

Ehrman’s How Jesus Become God lays out a very  plausible course of development for the deification of Jesus. For Paul, the apotheosis occurred at the Resurrection. Later, it moved backward to the baptism, as we saw in Mark. Finally, for Matthew, it started from before birth. For John, it started from before Time.

So Mark put it at the baptism. He had Jesus fasting and being tempted. But, at that point, the story(ies) of what the temptations involved had not been composed. That came later. My suspicion is that Matthew was the author. That, at least, is my working hypothesis. We’ll return to this as we progress. For now, suffice it to say that it’s no longer just Jesus being tempted, as it was in Mark; rather, it’s Jesus face-to-face with nothing less than the Enemy himself.

That’s the first transition in Chaper 4. The second is the transition to the public ministry. There are again two aspects of this transition. The first is to note how differently Matthew handles the initial miracles–or wonders. He does not make them the centerpiece of Jesus’ debut. Rather, he sort of mentions them in passing, lumping them together, brushing past them in a very minimalist fashion. Tied in with this is the emphasis given to the towns of the Peoples (fka Gentiles, or nations). Syria and the Decapolis are listed along with the more common place names of Judea and Galilee. The audience, I think, has changed significantly between Mark and Matthew. By the time the latter wrote, I suspect that most new members of the Jesus movement were of pagan, rather than Jewish origin. The point here is that the wonder-worker has begun to fade into the background. This, I think, is why the temptation story is here and not in Mark.

The more important piece of this is the kingdom, but there is rather less to say at the moment–but that will change. The question is that we have two sets of brothers leaving their homes and their families to follow Jesus. Is this meant to indicate what the kingdom will require of people if they wish to be included? Reading this, I’m not so sure that the whatever connection there was in Mark between Jesus beginning to preach that the kingdom was at hand and the four brothers leaving home and family has faded–to some degree–for Matthew. This is, to be clear, only a sense that I get, one that is not entirely supported in the text. I think it has to do with the way we get through this section rather quickly in order to get to the Sermon on the Mount. There is sort of an introductory feel to this section, as if it’s here because it has to be here because Mark had it, and it needs to be there for the context. But we will look at the how the idea of the kingdom continues to develop.

And, btw, what about the idea that James the son of Zebedee is the same person as James the (half-)brother of Jesus. Intriguing, no?

Matthew Chapter 4:18-25

This will conclude Chapter 4.

18 Περιπατῶν δὲ παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν τῆς Γαλιλαίας εἶδεν δύο ἀδελφούς, Σίμωνα τὸν λεγόμενον Πέτρον καὶ Ἀνδρέαν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, βάλλοντας ἀμφίβληστρον εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν: ἦσαν γὰρ ἁλιεῖς.

19 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Δεῦτε ὀπίσω μου, καὶ ποιήσω ὑμᾶς ἁλιεῖς ἀνθρώπων.

20 οἱ δὲ εὐθέως ἀφέντες τὰ δίκτυα ἠ κολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

Walking around the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon, the one called Peter, and Andrew his brother, throwing their nets in the water, for they were fishermen. (19) And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people”. (20) And immediately they left behind their nets and they followed him.

Not sure exactly what to say about this. It’s close to verbatim from Mark, right down to the “fishers of people” line.  Given the prominence of Cephas/Peter/Simon in Paul, we know that Peter was one of Jesus’ main followers. In fact, I would suggest that Peter may be the only one of the followers named of whom we can be reasonably confident that existed. 

18 Ambulans autem iuxta mare Galilaeae, vidit duos fratres, Simonem, qui vocatur Petrus, et Andream fratrem eius, mittentes rete in mare; erant enim piscatores.

19 Et ait illis: “ Venite post me, et faciam vos piscatores hominum ”.

20 At illi continuo, relictis retibus, secuti sunt eum.

21 Καὶ προβὰς ἐκεῖθεν εἶδεν ἄλλους δύο ἀδελφούς,Ἰάκωβον τὸν τοῦ Ζεβεδαίου καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ μετὰ Ζεβεδαίου τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν καταρτίζοντας τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν αὐτούς.

22 οἱ δὲ εὐθέως ἀφέντες τὸ πλοῖον καὶ τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.

And going further then he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets, and he called them. (22) Immediately leaving the boat and their father they followed him.

As I have said many times before, I have serious doubts about the Twelve. Between Paul and Mark I believe that we can safely and confidently say that the “Twelve Apostles” as those who were closest to Jesus is pretty much a later, mistaken interpretation. Paul was an apostle. Mark says Jesus sent out (apostellein) 72, not twelve. The only reason I cannot completely dismiss the Twelve is that Paul tells us that Jesus appeared to the Twelve. But given their rank in the sequence of appearances, I would guess that this may have been something that James instituted. 

Now, I seriously doubt the existence of Andrew, although there is a certain amount of likelihood of two brothers both choosing to follow Jesus. James (usually referred to as “The Greater”, as opposed to the other James who was a member of the twelve) and John, the “sons of thunder” pose real issues. In the gospels they are key members of Jesus’ inner circle. And yet, aside from probably spurious attributions of gospels and revelations to John, supposedly the one whom Jesus  loved, they are both very shadowy figures at best. They are prominent in the legends, but pretty much missing from the actual historical record. I keep toying with the idea that James the Greater (son of Zebedee and of Thunder) was actually James, brother of Jesus. This would solve a couple of problems. First, it would put the lord’s brother in the centre of the action, giving him a legitimate claim to being the leader of the Jerusalem Community after Jesus’ death. Second, transforming him into the son of Zebedee, rather than the son of Mary, possibly by a husband other than Jesus’ father, it would be a way to downplay the leader of the Jerusalem Community who was shunted aside, and then was executed in 64 according to Josephus. At the same time, the name James would still be retained as a prominent member of the inner circle, a name that probably would have been remembered by a number of Jesus’ followers. By retaining the name, while stressing the different father would help push James aside by covering up his relationship to Jesus. Downplaying this relationship would have helped justify the emergence of Peter as the eventual leader of the community.

In fact, that Jesus and James were half-brothers would, a) hardly be unusual for the time and place; b) explain why Mark called Jesus the son of Mary, rather than the son of…Joseph; and c) wrap up a bunch of loose ends. James could have been both the son of Zebedee and the (half-) brother of Jesus. Also, this would explain why Matthew added (or invented) the name of Joseph: to tell us that Jesus and James were sons of different fathers.

John poses bigger problems. We have nothing solid to attribute to John, and yet the name was revered enough that a later writer would put it to the last gospel and the Book of Revelation (although two persons named John is hardly impossible). Paul doesn’t name him, but James is the only “Pillar” of the Jerusalem Community that he does name. The attributions of the two books of the NT tells me that there actually was a John; unfortunately, that’s about all it tells me.

I did not deal with the actual point of this passage when discussing Mark. I’m not sure I grasped the actual point of the passage. Here we have two sets of brothers leaving occupation and father and family behind. Now, if Jesus had really lived in Caphernaum rather than Nazareth, he may have known Peter, and if James was his half-brother, then Jesus likely knew him as well. As such, this may not have been the swift, sudden decision that is presented here; rather, it may instead have been the culmination of a much longer process. The thing I missed in Mark is the connection of this episode with Jesus’ statement about the approaching kingdom. Now, the concept of “the kingdom” is one of the most important themes in Mark. There are those who will say that this was the key theme of the teaching of the historical Jesus. And there is good reason to think this may be true. This of course, leads to the question of what Jesus meant by “the kingdom”. I do not think we looked at this very closely when we read Mark, largely because I didn’t realize how deep the theme ran. If you break down Mark by theme–which I did–the kingdom is one of the most common motifs, and one of the few that extends from very early in the gospel more or less to the end. That is, it’s an integral part of the Wonder-worker section as well as the Christ section.

The point for this passage is whether the way the two sets of brothers left home and family and occupation behind is supposed to be a hallmark of the kingdom. Was this part of the price to be paid?  Or part of the preparation for the kingdom? Was the kingdom about an overthrow, or a disregarding of standard social norms? Instead of being dutiful sons, the sons of Zebedee leave their father and the family boat to follow Jesus. This was not how a good son was to act in the First Century. They were to stay and help Zebedee to carry on with the fishing. That was their duty. Instead, the literally drop what they’re doing and follow Jesus. This is a pretty sharp departure from standard practice. Is this a harbinger of what the kingdom is to be, or is to require? This needs to be looked at in a lot more depth than we did in Mark.

21 Et procedens inde vidit alios duos fratres, Iacobum Zebedaei et Ioannem fratrem eius, in navi cum Zebedaeo patre eorum reficientes retia sua; et vocavit eos.

22 Illi autem statim, relicta navi et patre suo, secuti sunt eum.

23 Καὶ περιῆγεν ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Γαλιλαίᾳ, διδάσκων ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν καὶ κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας καὶ θεραπεύων πᾶσαν νόσον καὶ πᾶσαν μαλακίαν ἐν τῷ λαῷ.

And he went through the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing all the diseases and all the maladies among the people.

23 Et circumibat Iesus totam Galilaeam, docens in synagogis eorum et praedicans evangelium regni et sanans omnem languorem et omnem infirmitatem in populo.

 This is a very broad statement. It’s more of a summary than a description. Perhaps it’s meant as a foreshadow. First, he went through the whole of Galilee. IOW, he was a peripatetic teacher who covered a fair bit of ground. Now, if he had withdrawn to Galilee to avoid being arrested like John, he wasn’t going to fly under the radar of Herod Antipas by circumambulating the entire region. So what are we to think of the whole connection with him going to Galilee because John was arrested? In this instance, was John arrested by someone other than Herod? That these two sets of circumstances seem to be contradictory tells me that at least one of them is wrong. Either a) John wasn’t arrested by Herod; b) Jesus didn’t withdraw to avoid Herod; or c) Jesus didn’t travel about the whole–or at least, a good portion–of Galilee. I suspect that the second is the odd-fact out, the one that doesn’t belong. One simple explanation could have been that, with the master in prison, Jesus returned to his own territory. Or, if John had been arrested by Herod, that Jesus never really left his home territory. This is more or less possible geographically.

Now, neither Mark nor Matthew explicitly stated that this was the reason for Jesus’ action as opposed to something that occurred prior, but the implication is very strong that there was a causal connection. Here, I think, is a great indication that the connection between John and Jesus was overplayed by his followers. The connection between the arrest and the return to Galilee is more or less presented as if Jesus were moving up to take John’s place.

In contrast, it’s interesting to note that the bit about the healings are downplayed to a certain extent. If you’ll recall, the first act in Jesus’ public ministry in Mark was the healing of the man’s withered hand in the synagogue, rather in the face of the Pharisees as happened. Here, Jesus’ healings are mentioned, but not specified. This, I think, is a great example of the continued transition from Wonder-worker to Christ. Mark started with the former and ended with the latter; Matthew, OTOH, picks up where Mark left off. Matthew does not ignore the wonders, but they do not get the attention that they received from Mark.

But think about this in relation to the calling of the brothers. In Mark, you have sequential episodes overturning the “rules”. First, the two brothers leaving their home and family; second, Jesus poking the established religious authorities in the eye by curing the man’s withered hand in the synagogue on a Sabbath. Both could be taken as “signs” of the overturning of the rules heralding the coming kingdom. Matthew, in contrast, leaves out the second of these episodes. Why? Or, more to the point, what does this say about Matthew’s interpretation of the kingdom? Which then raises the question: does this indicate a change in attitude towards the idea of the kingdom? This is a huge question.     

24 καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν Συρίαν: καὶ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας ποικίλαις νόσοις καὶ βασάνοις συνεχομένους [καὶ] δαιμονιζομένους καὶ σεληνιαζομένους καὶ παραλυτικούς, καὶ ἐθεράπευσεν αὐτούς.

25 καὶ ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ ὄχλοι πολλοὶ ἀπὸ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ Δεκαπόλεως καὶ Ἱεροσολύμων καὶ Ἰουδαίας καὶ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου.

And the word (lit = ‘hearing’) of him came to the whole of Syria; and all having illnesses, and various diseases, and constrained by torment (that is, pain), [and] demonaics and lunatics and paralytics came near to him and he healed them. (25) And many crowds followed him, from Galilee, and the Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from across the Jordan. 

24 Et abiit opinio eius in totam Syriam; et obtulerunt ei omnes male habentes, variis languoribus et tormentis comprehensos, et qui daemonia habebant, et lunaticos et paralyticos, et curavit eos.

25 Et secutae sunt eum turbae multae de Galilaea et Decapoli et Hierosolymis et Iudaea et de trans Iordanem.

OK, Matthew very neatly summarizes Mark here. We have the long list of maladies cured, and the numerous places of origin, and the fact that Jesus was very popular and followed by crowds. This is all an echo of Mark. One thing that’s a bit different is the prominence of Syria, and the inclusion of the Decapolis. These are non-Jewish territories. The non-Jewish world was rather peripheral in Mark’s account, but Syria is the first place Matthew mentions. At one time the theory was that Matthew wrote his gospel for the community of Antioch, which is in Syria. But we go beyond that, here. What this indicates, I think, is that the movement has become largely non-Jewish by the time Matthew wrote. One realization that I’ve come to during this study is the belief that the tipping point when the majority of the followers were pagans came much earlier than I had suspected. I don’t recall seeing any real estimates of when this occurred, but the sort of bland assumption that seems to underlie much of the scholarship is that Jews constituted the majority of Jesus’ followers for a number of decades, probably well into the last decades of the First Century. I don’t think so. I am coming to believe that the turning point came with the destruction of the Temple when the Jewish followers were scattered, if not killed. Matthew, in some ways, seems like the most Jewish of the evangelists, with his assertion that not an iota of the law has been abrogated. But I wonder if he is not displaying the zealousness of a convert, of a pagan who, as a god-fearer, became educated in Jewish law and scripture. This opinion–and that’s all it is–is a bit out there, isn’t something you will see suggested. But, certainly, whether or not Matthew was Jewish from birth, I would daresay that the majority of his community was not. That, I think, is why Syria and the Decapolis are mentioned so prominently here.

Just a quick note about the comment to last section. After this summary of the wonders, and the skipping of Jesus’ showing up of the religious authorities, we go on to the Sermon on the Mount.  What does this say about Matthew’s attitude towards the kingdom? Has it changed from what Mark thought it was, or would be?

Matthew Chapter 4:13-17

The chapter continues. This will be a short section. But those are famous last words.

12 Ἀκούσας δὲ ὅτι Ἰωάννης παρεδόθη ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὴνΓαλιλαίαν.

Then having heard that John having been arrested, he left the territory (and went) to Galilee.

The main verb in the sentence, << ἀνεχώρησεν >> carries the sense of exiting whatever territory you happen to be in.

But beyond that, this is more or less a direct copy of Mark on this. If you’ll recall, I admitted that I’ve always been perplexed by this. Now, I’m perplexed that I was perplexed by this. And I believe a commentor explained it all pretty well in relation to the entry for Mark, but it didn’t absorb until now. The logical thing is to assume that Jesus was a follower of John; so if John was arrested, then Jesus had reason to believe he might be arrested, too. That makes a lot of sense–on the surface. First, who arrested John? Was it Herod, as we’re told later? If so, Herod was also tetrarch of Galilee, so leaving for Galilee would not put him out of Herod’s reach. In fact, this move would seem possibly to have quite the opposite effect. One suggestion might be that Jesus was returning to Galilee to take up the mantle of the master, to take John’s place. But was John from Galilee? Don’t think so. And since so many were coming from Jerusalem to be baptised, one gets the impression that John was somewhat in the vicinity. The Jordan River flows into (or out of) the Sea of Galilee, so he could have been at that end of the river. But then, would Jesus have been ‘leaving the territory’, thereby ‘returning’ to Galilee?

This is actually a semi-interesting question. Where was Jesus baptised (assuming, for the sake of argument, that he was).  In the Synoptics, we get the impression that Jesus went to Jerusalem once. In John, we are told that Jesus went there multiple times.  If John were baptising in the vicinity of Jerusalem, then maybe Jesus did go there more than once. 

Or maybe Jesus was never baptised by John. That would solve the problem.

The other question is whether John actually had followers. From the description of him, one does not get that impression; he seems rather like the desert hermit type. But there is the story of John’s disciples coming to see Jesus. Given this, the thing to keep in mind is that the story of Jesus’ baptism is not told to relate an accurate description of the situation at the time; rather, it was a set-piece designed to further the tale of Jesus. I have said that Jesus’ later followers stressed, or even exaggerated the tie between John and Jesus; perhaps this sentence is the best example of this. By giving the impression that Jesus had reason to fear arrest himself, then the reader (listener) is left to understand that Jesus was close to John. And maybe the connection was invented, rather than exaggerated? According to Josephus, John had a very favorable reputation among the residents of Judea; that’s reason to invent it.

Note this: a lot of Christians–and biblical scholars–have suggested that Jesus’ relationship to John shows that Jesus was the follower. This is unthinkable, so we are told that the relationship is downplayed. I don’t buy that. Why mention it if it was so detrimental? No, the later followers of  Jesus saw the connection as beneficial to their story. So Matthew makes the story longer. Yup. That sure downplays the episode.

12 Cum autem audisset quod Ioannes traditus esset, secessit in Galilaeam.

13 καὶ καταλιπὼν τὴν Ναζαρὰ ἐλθὼν κατῴκησεν εἰς Καφαρναοὺμ τὴν παρα θαλασσίαν ἐν ὁρίοις Ζαβουλὼν καὶ Νεφθαλίμ:

14 ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Ἠσαΐου τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

15 Γῆ Ζαβουλὼν καὶ γῆ Νεφθαλίμ, ὁδὸν θαλάσσης, πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου, Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν,

16 ὁ λαὸς ὁ καθήμενος ἐν σκότει φῶς εἶδεν μέγα, καὶ τοῖς καθημένοις ἐν χώρᾳ καὶ σκιᾷ θανάτου φῶς ἀνέτειλεν αὐτοῖς.

And having left Nazareth, coming to Caphernaum along the sea (of Galilee), in the territory of Zabulon and Naphthali, so that the writing from Isaiah the prophet be fulfilled, saying “The land of Zebulon and Naphthali, on the road to the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the nations (= Gentiles), the people having been seated (settled) there in darkness saw the great light, and to those seated in the country and the shadow of death a light rose.

We talked about this to some degree in Mark. I have a very distinct sense that there are a lot of gyrations to get Jesus into Nazareth and Bethlehem, and then to explain why he actually lived in Caphernaum. Given my historical training, I really get the feeling that much of this is after-the-fact rationalizing, intended to “fulfill” the prophecies “about” Jesus. By this I mean that later followers of Jesus kept looking through the Hebrew Scriptures to find rather generic stuff like this, and then moved Jesus about in order to make it all happen; all this despite the fact that everyone knew he was from Caphernaum.  Now, in biblical scholarship, there is the concept of dissimilarity; this means that inconvenient facts are more likely to be true than the stuff that “makes sense”. As I see it, Jesus living in Caphernaum is probably a terrific example of such a fact. It seems so inconvenient that the authors of the NT had to invent reasons why he was from David’s city, or why he was called a Nazarene, or how God called his son out of Egypt. 

Mark called him “Jesus of Nazareth”, but this is the sort of thing that could have been inserted at any time. Mark’s narrative, OTOH, seemed to make the most sense when we had Jesus and his mother and siblings all living in Caphernaum.  Matthew then has to fulfill the prophecies by having Jesus born in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt, and then having Herod slaughter the innocents, and then move to Nazareth. Being honest, I have no idea how much, or how often people in ancient Judea/Palestine/Galilee moved about; my sense is that it didn’t happen very often. Being relocated was a major trauma for ancient people; in Greek cities, exile was the equivalent of death. One’s extended family was important to one’s social standing, and to one’s support. One didn’t just leave it behind without good reason. I honestly don’t know if I’m overreacting to this, but it just seems odd.

This is a bit of perplexity on my part: “Naphthali across the Jordan”. The thing is, the Jordan runs north and south. That means that “to be across the Jordan”, one would have to be looking from east to west. And remember that Isaiah was supposedly written prior to the fall of Israel. I looked this up in my Atlas of Biblical History and tried to figure out where this would have been written if Naphthali were “across the Jordan”. Didn’t come up with anything obvious. 

<<  Γαλιλαία τῶν ἐθνῶν>> This transliterates as “Galilee ton ethnown”. The last word is the root of  “ethnic”. This is the word that has usually been rendered as “Gentiles”, and I believe I have done so many times without thinking of it too much. In a lot of more recent translations it has become “the nations”. The word probably means something like “linguistic/cultural group”. Bear in mind that there was no necessary correlation between a linguistic/cultural group and their “nation” in the way we think of Italy and Italian being reasonably synonymous. As such, “nation” is horribly anachronistic. As such, “peoples”–especially as meaning “different peoples” or “other peoples” is probably a better way to render the word. I will try to do so in the future.

So, taking this with the bit about being across the Jordan, we get that this region was not part of the ancient (and largely legendary) Kingdom of Israel. Well, the kingdom is legendary mostly in the sense that there was ever a united monarchy that ruled from Jerusalem.

13 Et relicta Nazareth, venit et habitavit in Capharnaum maritimam 

14 in finibus Zabulon et Nephthali, ut impleretur, quod dictum est per Isaiam prophetam dicentem:

15 “ Terra Zabulon et terra Nephthali, / ad viam maris, trans Iordanem, / Galilaea gentium; /

16 populus, qui sedebat in tenebris, / lucem vidit magnam,  et sedentibus in regione et umbra mortis / lux orta est eis ”.

17 Ἀπὸ τότε ἤρξατο ὁ Ἰησοῦς κηρύσσειν καὶ λέγειν, Μετανοεῖτε, ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

17 Exinde coepit Iesus praedicare et dicere: “ Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum ”.

From then Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near”.

OK, the kingdom of heaven again. This was what John was preaching back in 3:2. So, IOW, Jesus is preaching John’s message. In fact, this is John’s message verbatim. What are we to make of this?

In Mark, John does not say that the kingdom has come near. Rather, the first mention of the kingdom is made by Jesus, in the same context as it is placed here: it was what Jesus began preaching after hearing that John had been arrested. Here is perhaps the most flagrant example of how Matthew ties Jesus even more closely to John than Mark did: he has Jesus actually repeat what John said. Sure seems like an attempt to link the two together, rather than to downplay the connection. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but as for the relative popularity of Jesus and John, Josephus’ treatment of John is significantly longer than his treatment of Jesus; especially if one scrapes away the later Christian accretions.

Now we are left with the idea of the kingdom. What does this mean? At this point, we really don’t know. Nor are we ever given a systematic discussion of the topic, or we weren’t given such in Mark. We were told it is like a mustard seed and other such things, but nothing in direct discourse. Why was that? A lot of scholars claim that this was a–or even the–central doctrine of Jesus’ teaching. Then why was he so cryptic about it? Why no speech telling us that the kingdom is the refuge of te broken and the dispossessed? Why didn’t Mark make that clear?

Being the good historian that I am (!), I can think of a couple of possible answers to that question. Or maybe more. The first is that this was an aspect of Jesus’ teaching that Mark wasn’t much interested in. Can’t exactly say why this might have been, but it should be considered. Another is that Mark was very interested, but this was part of the secret teaching that Mark wished to keep secret; a corollorary to this would be the possibility that Mark did not know because the secret knowledge he alludes to was never told to Mark. No doubt other possible explanations could be presented, but I think we get the picture. It’s also possible that Mark explained it very plainly, but I’m a dullard like Peter who just doesn’t get it.

This is good point to mention this because we’re coming up on the Sermon on the Mount in the next chapter. Many scholars sort of hold that this represents the core of Jesus’ teaching. The Q adherents are dead certain that this teaching was part of Q, since it appears in Matthew and Luke, but not Mark. I am going to have to deal with this, and I intend to do so shortly, but that will probably be te topic of a special piece.

Yes, this sure was a “short” section.

What Is Truth?

In church this week, our parish had the privilege of having the bishop officiate mass. At the beginning of his sermon, he passed on a news item that I had missed. Apparently, Pope Francis made an announcement that the Roman Church accepts evolution, and this news was reported on all the major news outlets. Just as I was feeling all smug about having known this, the went on to explain that this was not news. The Roman Church has never really had a problem with evolution; nor did the Anglican/Episcopal Church, or most of the other mainline denominations. I knew  this because the parish priest (or my religion teacher; don’t exactly remember which) had told me this when I was in high school a number of years (OK, it was decades) ago. I was told that the Church had no problem with evolution as long as you believed that God was the ultimate mover behind the process.

Before church I was having a coffee at the local Starbucks and the minister of the Baptist Church that is more or less next door to my Episcopal Church came in. We had had an encounter last spring which led to an exchange of blog addresses, so he came over and we chatted. I was reading (and taking notes on) Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, and we discussed some issues related to the growth of the various traditions that developed after the death of Jesus. And this is, essentially, what I’ve been talking about in this blog from the beginning: how the set of beliefs that originated (more or less) with Jesus ended up as the Christianity that we know today. And, basically, this is what  Ehrman is doing in How Jesus Became God.

So, from reading Ehrman, to having the discussion with Jonathan, to listening to the bishop talk about the view on evolution held by the Roman and Anglican/Episcopal (etc) churches, I was struck by something. Christianity did not spring, full-grown and clad in shining armour, from the forehead of God, or Jesus, or Paul, or the evangelists. In scientific parlance, we could say it evolved. Or, to put it theological terms, we could say that Christianity came to be through a series of revelations. Step-by-step, the higher Truth was revealed to the successive authors until the corpus of what we call the NT culminated in the Gospel of John. And this is exactly how the Origin of Species was revealed to Darwin: through a series of small discoveries that led to a greater conclusion. And note that “discovery” is a viable translation for “apocalypsein”, which literally means something like “unhiding”.

Funny how different paths, different metaphors can lead to the same conclusions.


And here’s the address for Jonathan’s blog:

Now, since he’s an ordained minister, his take will naturally be a bit different from mine, but he writes some interesting stuff.